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Aidan Baker, "Liminoid/Lifeforms"

cover imageUnlike previous solo efforts, here Baker is flanked by a concentrated orchestra, propelling his demur drones into consonant and complete compositions. The result is an album of staggering growth as Baker explores the elegant side of drone and the filth of classical percussion and strings that not only established Baker as an innovator but as a inventive curator of drone and its many variants.

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Aidan Baker - Liminoid / Lifeforms

Above all else, Liminoid/Lifeforms is a definitive statement. Baker clearly states his objective with the first few notes of “Liminoid Part I,” never wavering from his desire to capture the elements of classical and romantic composition with modern techniques. The result is an album that is warm; thick with texture and sonic craftsmanship. Albums with this much attention to detail often crumble under the weight of expectation but Baker has nothing to atone for once the final note of “Lifeforms” fades into the abyss.

The greatest accomplishment of Baker’s foray into the classical is in its simplicity. Much like the great masters of composition, Baker is never afraid to do too much by doing too little. Each of the four parts that comprise “Liminoid” joins seamlessly. Not until the soaring vocals of “Liminoid (Part IV)” can we begin to notice how Baker has carefully flirted with the grandiose by indulging it so completely. The subtle hints of cello and violin coupled with the restrained guitars and percussion are slow to reveal themselves as something more than Baker’s usual fare. “Liminoid (Part IV)” becomes the unveiling of Baker’s masterpiece; when the quiet decoration that has been painstakingly built for 22-minutes engulfs the classical philosophy in a fiery pillar of modern ingenuity. In spite of its ambitious nature, the whole of “Liminoid” does not falter for even a single note. This is proof that experimental music can be manipulated using the principles of Romanticism without compromising the chaos theory and fringe accessibility that has found deep roots in various genres.

After the breathtaking beauty of “Liminoid,” Baker risks toppling his opus with the sedentary drone of “Lifeforms.” Yet the risk is well worth it, providing the perfect counterpoint to elegance of “Liminoid” while also proving to be its mirror—albeit of the warped, funhouse variety. Where “Liminoid” was poised and polite, “Lifeforms” is a test of patience and will. It maintains the grace of its segmented lead-in but the restraint of “Liminoid” is replaced with rambunctiousness. “Lifeforms” isn’t abrasive but a piece built on dissonance and misplacement. Its parts, unlike “Liminoid,” are those of worn jigsaw puzzles; connections don’t fit as they should, the tabs are frayed beyond recognition, and there are holes from missing pieces. In this there is a majesty that admirers of “The Ugly Duckling” (and its ilk) will appreciate. “Lifeforms,” when held against “Liminoid,” will seem the tremorring visage; but as a mirror and a companion, it divulges the secrets of success found within “Liminoid,” while annihilating the measuring stick of beauty used for far too long.

The labeling of Liminoid/Lifeforms as a high form of art may be a bit of hyperbole but within Aidan Baker’s classical excursion, there are far too many gems of old and new to call it anything else. Over the course of one hour, Baker builds a sturdy bridge over a crevice that once relied on the likes of John Cage and Terry Riley as its architects. Old world beauty and futuristic tones can work as one, creating music that is as challenging as it is universal.

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Review of the Day

Chicago Underground Trio, "Slon"
Thrill Jockey
The Chicago Underground (whose members vary in number on their various releases) uses the malleable forms of jazz and electronic music to explore sounds and thoughts that could only be captured in the vistas of these boundless styles. Slon is an experiment in forms and styles, exploring the brassy expressionism of both genres to deliver a stirring display of meaning and intent through their inspired tones. The opening squalls of "Protest" are immediate, like a fist raised in the air, standing out with a direct intensity that breaks out of the din of high hats and ride cymbals that pepper the air. As the track progresses, the melody and rhythm begin to double back on themselves through overdubs, slightly out of phase but still in concert with one another, building and moving along the same path. The tension created by these overlays increases the urgency as the trio begins to sound like a throng of voices all searching for the same step. "Zagreb" begins with a low rustling of machinery in the distance, or warm air rushing through a subway tunnel, before a slinky bass line and moody cornet overtake the scene, like steam rising off a rain slicked city street. Mazurek's horn playing is intensely sultry, an alluring hook into the dusky rhythm work of bassist Noel Kupersmith and drummer Chad Taylor. The album's title track blends an ethereal, disembodied horn with a clattering of aggressive blips of electronica, transporting the initial impulses that would typically emerge from the end of a horn or drum stick deep through a processor. The percussive, pixilated energy highlights that while the medium may grant artists a wider selection of ways to express themselves, it is still up to the artist to find those words. "Slon," along with the sparse ambience of "Kite" demonstrate that the Chicago Underground is quite adept at pulling the pieces together, whatever language they are speaking. The abstractions only intensify on "Palermo," which assembles the slow attack and fast falloff of reversed cymbal hits with a drippy beat and slippery progression. The track was seemingly assembled in the style of musique concrete, by tape cutter Bill Skibbe, furthering the ensemble's post-bop aesthetic and dedication to utilizing creative methods of presenting their sound. Though the acoustic and electric portions of Slon only intersect briefly, the way in which the Chicago Underground Trio employs them makes for a distinctly impressive piece.

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